Dave Gilson knew Lockport would go through growing pains offensively.
Even with Charlie Croff returning for a sophomore season, the Lions had to replace an all-senior starting lineup that won 14 games and sparked a unit that scored 62.7 points per game, 10th-best in Section VI.
Lockport entered January with a 4-5 record and couldn’t string consecutive victories together. The Lions were 2-2 in games decided by 10 points or less, ranging from an 89-86 overtime loss to St. Mary’s on Dec. 11 and a 59-50 win versus Kenmore West on Dec. 13.
But with the final sprint for the Niagara Frontier League championship and the sectional postseason on deck later this month, the Lions are on a hot streak. Including an 88-50 road win against North Tonawanda Friday, Lockport has won six of its last seven games, improving to 10-6 overall.
As of Monday, Lockport is 6-1 in the NFL standings and a game behind Niagara Wheatfield (5-0) in the Niagara standings (4-1). Lockport is set for critical home contests at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday versus Niagara Wheatfield and 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Lock City. Wins against both teams guaranteeing a share of the league title is on the line for the Lions.
“How you’re playing in November shouldn’t be how you’re playing in February,” Gilson said. “We’ve slowly put things in (offensively) and gotten these guys used to it. And this is the time of year when you want to get things rolling. This is the important time and it’s not where you start in the standings. It’s where you’re going to end up in the standings. And these kids hopefully buy into that and understand.”
Entering Monday, the Lions have scored 1,070 points, the second-highest total in the section and only one point behind Jamestown. And, in this category, Lockport joins Grand Island (1,067) as the only greater Niagara region teams — and seven in the section overall — to score over 1,000 points this season.
The Lions are also tied with the Red-and-Green in points per game (66.9) and are 9-1 this season when scoring over 60 points. Lockport is also shooting 56.5% from the field and has made 329 field goals while also recording 249 assists, all third-best in the section.
Fifteen years since taking over the Lockport program, scoring in transition remains a staple of Gilson’s offensive philosophy, correlating that games are decided in this category while also having strong ball security. With this in mind, Lockport has had three players shooting over 50% from the floor, including leading scorer Charlie Croff, averaging 17.1 points per game.
“I think we’re finding our guys in rhythm a little bit more,” Gilson said. “… I thought at the beginning, we just kept dribbling all over, instead of just moving the ball (and) getting at the swing. And, trying to find the bigs but letting it work from inside out or outside in, depending on what’s there on any given night.”
One player who has benefited greatly from Lockport’s offensive boost is sophomore Mike Griffin. Griffin appeared in the Lions’ two post-season games against Williamsville North and Jamestown and scored in his varsity debut against the Spartans in the Class AA quarterfinal.
Since then, Griffin has found himself in the starting backcourt, alongside Croff. Griffin is currently shooting 55% from the floor and is second on the Lions with 12.8 points per game.
Compared to the start of the season, Lockport’s offense has benefited significantly from the work with rebounding, primarily Maurice Woods and Caleb Barry. Both listed as 6-4, Woods and Barry have contributed for nearly 40% of the team’s total rebounds (246).
The increase in rebounding has led to more scoring opportunities for the guards like Griffin. Plus, to Griffin, the whole offense has benefited due to its growing consistency both in and out of the paint and beyond the arc.
“Say how a plant grows,” Griffin said. “(The offense) is like a little plant that comes out as a seed and then it grows big. That’s exactly how it is.”
Along with games against Niagara and Grand Island, Lockport will also play at 7 p.m. Thursday versus Kenmore East.